Sniffing Around The Archer Daniel Midland Headquarters
Agriculture is possibly the most pervasive form of land use in the United States. Approximately 45% of the land in this country is used for crops or livestock. Under a recent initiative, the CLUI is expanding its research into this industry, adding to the CLUI database of specific "sites" across the country by including more examples representing the complex spectrum of this essential form of land use. We are announcing this initiative here to solicit suggestions and field reports from our constituancy, and starting with a description of one of the premier American agricultural entities, the Archer Daniels Midland company, and its headquarters in Decatur, Illinois.
Though a zealous security force watches the public roads around the plant, making unauthorized photography difficult, a drive around the 1,125 acre complex is an olfactory experience like none other on the planet. The CLUI researcher who visited the site recently described it as "an effervescent, anaerobic, enzymic, protean, protein-rich cornucopia of odors, emanating from the various stages and permutations of the highly controlled organic decomposition of America's heartland."
The town of Decatur (population 83,000) is in the middle of Illinois, surrounded by farmland, its fringes dotted with manufacturing plants, such as midwestern giants Bridgestone/Firestone and Caterpillar. Among them, and the biggest employer in the region, is Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).
The Decatur ADM complex, located on the north side of town, is perhaps the largest of the 205 plants owned by the company worldwide. There are three distinct plants within the complex, connected to each other by pipelines. These in turn are connected to the farmland of America along railway lines that carry ADMs fleet of 13,000 railcars, and roads carrying the company's 1,200 trucks. In addition, ADM owns over 2,000 river barges, said to be the largest fleet in the world.
The headquarters for Archer Daniels Midland is located on the eastern edge of the manufacturing complex, and it is from here that the company, led by the Andreas family for over 30 years, runs the self-described "Supermarket to the World."
The company principally purchases raw farm products, the big American staples like wheat, corn, and soy, and transforms them into other ingredients that are sold in bulk to other food manufacturing, processing, and packaging companies (recently, ADM has begun to process and package market ready products, such as soy milk). One of the primary methods for this "value-adding" is fermentation, which generates a particularly potent medley of mealy odors around the plant, according to visitors.
The Decatur complex processes corn and soy, at a rate of 600,000 and 200,000 bushels a day, respectively. The East Plant, processing mostly corn, produces ingredients familiar in name to any American that reads processed food labels: citric acid and lactic acid (acidulants in food products); xanthan gum (adds texture and stability to things like dairy foods and bottled dressings); dextrose (a sweetner); sorbitol (a sugar free sweetner); and corn syrup.
ADM is among the top ranking corn syrup producers in the world. The American corn syrup market is protected by federal restrictions on the importation of inexpensive foreign sugar, which because of a larger global supply, is much cheaper than domestic sugar. Because of subsidized domestic corn production, corn syrup costs only twelve cents a pound, and it is therefore the favored sweetner for thousands of American products, from Coca Cola to catsup, often second on the ingredient list after flour or water. With pipelines carrying corn syrup over roadways, the East Plant at Decatur may be the largest producer of the substance in the world (ADM spokespeople are reluctant to talk about superlatives).
Other corn products produced at the East Plant include corn starch (which is used in food, paper, textiles, construction materials, and industrial products - it is has even been used to strip coatings off the Stealth Bomber); vitamin C; and ethanol, a common automotive fuel additive that lowers the carbon monoxide output from cars (ADM produces 2/3 of the ethanol used in the USA).
The West Plant, connected to and similar in function to the East Plant, has refineries that make vegetable oils, and processes the derivatives from the "meal," left after the oil is extracted from the seeds. ADM makes all kinds of oils, such as sunflower, cottonseed, and canola, though Decatur operations focus on cornoil and soy. ADM hopes that soy someday will be as rich in "value-added" derivatives as corn. Soy proteins are used in processed meats, animal feed, and, in the form of "lecithin," can be found in chocolate bars, salad dressing, paints, and cosmetics. ADM also makes large quantities of vitamin E from soy, for the "Neutraceuticals" division of the company.
The more remote North Plant in Decatur is currently not in operation. It is associated with the milling activites and the animal feed production of the Bio Products divisions of ADM, much embattled after the company was accused of price fixing for the lycene market. Lycene is an amino acid, which animals require to make proteins (which keep them alive, healthy, and make them meaty). ADM, the largest domestic producer of lycene, makes the product from fermented corn. It is marketed to farmers and feed companies in a packaged, crystalline form, and was also mixed into ADMs own animal feed at the North Plant in Decatur.
It has taken ADM, which started as a linseed crushing business in 1905, less than 100 years to become possibly the most influential company in the American agriculture industry. Its headquarters in Decatur is a must-see (and smell) landmark in the American landscape.